The Music and Immigrants of the Dakotahs

Who are you? Where do you come from?

We all have different answers. But the one thing that connects us is music, no matter our culture, language or time.

The Dakotah Territory has a rich history of music. Immigrants from all over the world have added to it. And a new exhibit at The Journey Museum and Learning Center has it all.

“The Music and Immigrants of the Dakotahs” takes you back in time, when life was both simple and hard.

Lead Band members in Lead, S.D.
Photos courtesy of Patrick B. Ryan and Deadwood Historic Preservation


Executive Director of The Journey Museum and Learning Center, Troy Kilpatrick, hopes people will understand the vision behind the exhibit.

Kilpatrick wants to use knowledge for modern talking points. People can relate to and connect the dots between diverse cultures.

Music is something everyone shares. Mark Slocum, the executive director of the Minnilusa Historical Association, says it “shows more of what we have in common than in differences as human beings.”

Learning about the past helps you interpret the present. And when you know more about your own genealogy, you might think about immigrants differently.

Kilpatrick says that “in some way, we are all immigrants to this space from somewhere.”

He says that at the root of this country, this is a place that welcomes everyone. And it’s a conversation still going on today.

Your reality might not be so different from those who lived here more than a century ago.


The exhibit covers culture and music in the Black Hills after the Civil War and leads you through the turn of the century. More specifically, 1874-1915.

There were many indigenous groups in the Dakotah Territory – the Lakota being one of them.

Other prominent cultures were: Chinese, German-Russian, Irish, Jewish and Norwegian.

Some were fleeing religious persecution. Some came to work. Others came for gold.

All had a unique sound.



The exhibit space might not seem straightforward – but it’s yours to explore. Full of depth and angles that bounce you around, the space comes alive.

Life isn’t a straight line, and neither is The Journey Museum and Learning Center, Kilpatrick says.

You’ll notice signs are held up with rope instead of wire. Burlap hangs on the walls. In the middle of it all is a map with burnt edges. You can mark where your ancestors are from with a pin.

While most museums have a “look but don’t touch” policy, this is a place where you can ignore that in part. Children can color music notes and tape them up around the space. And parents can share in the moment.

Throughout the summer, The Journey offers weekly shows to go even deeper into the culture.



So how did this all come together? It was two years of planning and collaborating between institutions at both ends of the state.

“It’s been a team effort,” says Corey Christianson, the exhibits and curations coordinator at The Journey Museum and Learning Center.

The Journey is working with the Minnilusa Historical Association (MHA) and the National Music Museum (NMM), located in Vermillion, S.D. 

The idea formed in 2016 at the South Dakota Tourism Conference. The question was asked – how can West River and East River collaborate more?

One thing that connected the two sides of the state was a famous family band. The Bower family moved from Vermillion to the Rapid City area in 1885.


And this year is also the 45th anniversary of the NMM. The NMM and the MHA provided the instruments on display, each one linked to a specific culture or time period.

Mark Slocum, the executive director of the MHA, says they have partnered with The Journey on several temporary exhibits over the years. It gives the MHA a chance to showcase items that aren’t on permanent display.

It’s also a great way to show that The Journey is always changing, both in programming and exhibits.

Other collaborators:
The Deadwood Historical Society provided invaluable research into the Chinese history of Deadwood.
Sonya Holy Eagle with the Dakota Drum Company loaned two drums for display.
The Deadwood Historical Association granted the exhibit a display of lyrics to “The Black Hills,” sung by Dick Brown.
Rose Fosha contributed historical and archaeological information about Deadwood.
Ann Stanton shared information on the Jewish culture in Deadwood.
Dr. Paul Fessler, a professor at Dordt College, researched the immigration of different groups.
NewsCenter1 is a sponsor of the exhibit.


“The Music and Immigrants of the Dakotahs” exhibit is temporary. So what’s next at The Journey Museum and Learning Center?

In October, come see their next exhibit, "Oscar Howe Tiospa." Oscar Howe was a Yanktonai Sioux artist who painted Native American traditions in a modern style. He's credited with influencing today's Native American artists.

And tiospa means "extended family" in Lakota.

The exhibit debuts on Native American Day weekend.


NewsCenter1 would like to thank the people below and everyone else involved with the exhibit for their help. 

Troy Kilpatrick, The Journey Museum and Learning Center

Photo courtesy of The Journey Museum and Learning Center

Corey Christianson, The Journey Museum and Learning Center

Mark Slocum, The Minnilusa Historical Association

Emanuele Marconi, National Music Museum

Hannah Grantham, National Music Museum